Caught in the Crossfire Between Your Spouse and Your Parents? What to Do

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Caught in the Crossfire Between Your Spouse and Your Parents? What to Do

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD


When your parents and spouse don’t get along, there’s pressure to side with each of them. You love them both. You value them both. And you don’t want to hurt or upset either one. So what should you do?

Assuming that you have a healthy relationship with your spouse, the answer is: honor your parents, but prioritize your spouse.

In addition to loving your parents, you probably feel some obligation to show respect. But when your parents are intrusive, too involved, or are critical of your spouse, it is your duty to stand by your spouse. You have made a commitment to each other to prioritize your relationship. And although it is far preferable to have harmony in the family – with everyone feeling valued, there are times when this will only come with you taking a stand. And sometimes, unfortunately, harmony may not even be an option.

While you should try to understand and respect your parents, those considerations do not extend to allowing them to undermine your marriage. Talk with your spouse about how the two of you want to handle the situation. For instance, if you’re on the phone with your parents and they are critical of your spouse despite your protests, you might tell your parents that you need to end the conversation. Or, when conflicts arise, you might encourage your spouse to stand up to your parents when necessary and support that action by clearly siding with your spouse.

There are times when couples can find a way together to work out a compromise. For instance, you might talk with your spouse about their willingness to change something in their behavior, such as agreeing to avoid a particular topic that you know will incite your parents. But when you ask for this kind of accommodation, it is important that your spouse agrees because they are open to doing so – not simply because they are submitting to pressure.

No matter what approach you take to handling the tension between your spouse and your parents, it’s important that you and your spouse feel understood and respected by each other. Hopefully the two of you can find a way to maintain as good a relationship as possible with your parents while still prioritizing your marriage.


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